Taoiseach defends pandemic payment cut as new advisers approved

Aides on up to € 101,114 for work with senior Ministers and up to €78,816 with Ministers of State

Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended reducing the pandemic payment on budgetary grounds. Photograph: Tom Honan/PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended reducing the pandemic payment on budgetary grounds. Photograph: Tom Honan/PA

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin was forced to defend appointing advisers for 10 Ministers of State as he came under pressure in the Dáil from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for cutting the weekly pandemic unemployment payment.

The Cabinet on Tuesday approved the appointment of special advisers to the 10 Ministers, overturning an earlier decision that they would share from a pool of appointees.

Ms McDonald contrasted the appointments and salaries with reductions applied to the €350 weekly pandemic unemployment payment. This was cut to between €200 and €300, depending on income people earned before the crisis. More than 150,000 people are in receipt of the payment.

“I’m astounded and gobsmacked that your Government has approved the hiring of 10 advisers to junior Ministers at a time when you’re cutting payments to people have lost their jobs,” she said, adding that “€350 is not a fortune”.

“Nobody in this chamber is on €350. I dare say the 10 special advisers for your junior Ministers are on an awful lot more than €350.”

Ms McDonald warned that with cuts to the payment, ending of mortgage payment breaks and an end to a ban on evictions there was a danger “that people become more terrified of losing their job, their home and not providing for their families than they are of getting the virus”.

She said the cut needed to be reviewed and reversed.

Mr Martin defended the reduction on budgetary grounds and accused Ms McDonald of “hypocrisy” on the issue of appointing advisers. He noted the number of special advisers her party employed in the Northern Ireland Executive.

“You were one of the original enthusiasts for special advisers,” he said. “So stop the hypocrisy on that issue.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee defended the decision, saying Ministers make decisions that “impact on thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people’s lives”.

Sources said several of the 17 Ministers of State “made the case” for hiring the 10 additional advisers, who are in addition to the three employed by the three Ministers of State who sit at the Cabinet table. The 10 were also allocated pro-rata among the Coalition parties, with Fianna Fáil Ministers getting four, Fine Gael four and the Green Party two.

Who gets the advisers?

Those who will benefit are: Minister of State for Older People and Mental Health Mary Butler; Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte; Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne; Minister of State at the Department of Finance Seán Fleming and Minister of State for the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan.

Others who will have advisers are: Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan; Minister of State for Employment Affairs and Retail Businesses Damien English; Minister of State for Research and Development Martin Heydon; Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan; and Minister of State for Community Development and Charities Joe O’Brien.

The pay for special advisers is between €87,325 and € 101,114 for those who work with senior and “super-junior” Ministers who attend Cabinet and between €67,659 and €78,816 for advisers to Ministers of State.

Some sources around Government were privately critical of the timing of the announcement on advisers, given it came on the day cuts to the pandemic payment were implemented.

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